It Follows: New Horror or Love Story?

When It Follows came out, I was excited. EW gave it rave reviews as a great horror movie. Scary even. Audiences loved it. It won multiple awards at film festivals. The hype made me want to see it even more. This week, I watched it and came to this conclusion: It’s not a horror movie.

It Follows
Photo from: http://www.empireonline.com

Here’s why: (contains spoilers)

It’s a twisted love story, not horror.
It Follows is no more of a horror movie than Warm Bodies, which is listed as comedy, romance, horror. IMDB lists It Follows as horror, mystery, thriller, but I can’t figure out why. Just because you have horror/supernatural elements, it doesn’t make it a horror movie. The main character and her “Duckie” end up together after struggles and hardships. He has to prove his love to her, and she has to accept it. I interpreted the ending as they commit to one another to destroy the curse, or at least find an escape. They don’t live happily ever after, but they find love and acceptance.

If it’s not a love story, it’s a coming-of-age movie.
This movie focuses on the main character’s self-esteem and coming to terms with who she is. She starts out dreamy and vibrant, and throughout the movie, the curse tries to destroy her. Sure, it comes after her in a physical sense, but it also mentally forces her to deal with her decisions. She’s 19 but seems disconnected from the world. Once her friends and family become involved, the film evolves into a strange adventure. Through her experiences and trials, she grows up, and almost everyone survives. She learns to love someone, accept herself, and carry on.

It wasn’t scary.
I read many reviews about the fear factor. Reviewers and websites called it “different and scary.” Different, yes. Scary, no. If you’re scared of catching an STD, it may scare you. If you’re safe, then it’s “scariness” is lame and nonexistent. I’ve scared myself more hearing a weird noise at home. The movie lacks eeriness, suspense, mystery, jump scenes and build up. The basics of an effective horror movie are absent or barely touched upon.

Only one person dies.
Ok, I know horror doesn’t have to be all blood and gore, but it does help if people die. I understand the psychological horror, however you’d think a curse stalking people would kill its prey. The one guy who dies goes quickly – in a sick way – but all you see is his blue, lifeless face. Also, there’s no blood. The movie does pay homage to many old-school horror movies, but the absence of blood makes it stick out. Old-school horror movies loved blood and guts, so if a movie pays homage to them, it should too.

Additional Notes:
With all that said, I did enjoy the movie. It was shot extremely well. The director did a fantastic job of combining art with film without feeling artsy. I loved Yara (Olivia Luccardi), the odd best friend who gets shot and just sits there and takes it. She was the best character in the movie, and she added a fun element. There were several plot holes, and at times it was confusing, but I’m glad I saw it. It Follows is worth a watch if you want to stay current, but if you want a good horror movie, skip this one.

We welcome a good debate, so if you feel it is a horror movie, feel free to share your comments below!

Worst Horror Movie: The Exorcism of Emily Rose

If there is a cardinal sin the makers of a horror movie can commit it would certainly be making their film boring. When deciding on what film to declare my “least favorite” horror movie I debated on whether I could even include this film…as most of the film is a courtroom drama…with little bits of horror thrown in. After much consideration I decided this was the worst horror film to me…and not for the reasons many expect.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is the movie I always return to when I think of the “worst” horror movie. No it’s not as atrocious as many of the cheesy horror fare, it has very strong performances from its cast, and when the film does horror it can actually achieve a very creepy mood and contains a lot of elements that stick with you (watch this movie and try waking up at 3 am without feeling a bit creeped out). So how does it fail so spectacularly?

Here’s how:

Pacing and Tone: The movie is very slow. That doesn’t have to be bad. The original Dracula and Frankenstein films were slow. Many great films have used a slow pace to build to a crescendo. And certainly the exorcism we see toward the end of the film is the most interesting part of the movie, but the pace of the film didn’t build to it. And its portrayal underlines the principle problem of the movie. The main story isn’t really Emily Rose’s exorcism. The movie should be called The Trial of the Priest Who Performed the Exorcism of Emily Rose. Since the story takes place during the trial, after the exorcism, the result of eponymous exorcism is known from the film’s first scene. The rest of the possession narrative is told in retrospect. And since the people telling the story are around to tell their part it robs the demon segments of the story of any suspense. This leaves the tension of the story resting entirely on the outcome of the COURT CASE. In a movie about an exorcism our interests are supposed to be vested in the result of a trial. This cuts down on the horror tone exponentially and just as you start to get that nice, horror movie feeling you’re ripped back into cross examinations and plea negotiations. In fact the film is so wrapped in the court case all of the character development and story arcs revolve around those involved in the case, using the exorcism as a set up for a narrative rather than the central point of it. It’s almost as though the filmmakers set out to make a courtroom drama about an exorcism, then toward the end of production decided to throw in some horror elements (some are quite good, some horribly clichéd and have been done so much better by The Exorcist and The Omen.) This “last minute” horror feel is what makes Emily Rose feel like a movie that almost doesn’t belong in the horror category at all…

Skeptics vs True Believers: This may be the biggest opportunity missed. The film makers set up a fascinating dichotomy of a “true believer” lawyer prosecuting the priest and an agnostic defending him and his exorcism. The prosecution goes on about psychiatric and medical conditions that can cause possession-like states, and all are FAR more convincing than the demon parts of the story. It sets up what could have been a “let the audience decide” story of “was it or wasn’t it” a possession. BUT the narrative shows you that according to the movie it was a demon. We see her getting “possessed.” We see the shadowy demonic activities impacting the agnostic prosecutor. We hear testimony from a friendly, smiling, peaceful, attractive pseudo-scientist who talks about how real possession is in direct contrast to the testimony of a doctor played by an actor so known for his slimy characters he played a rogue government official in a friggin Jack Ryan movie. I would have loved to see the evidence presented evenly so both sides are shown as plausible. It would let an audience think and decide what they believe occurred. Instead this film skirts with “here’s a possibility for the skeptics” but then, like the ending of Clue says, “now here’s what really happened.” In the end the “skeptic” part of an exorcism story was done better in The Exorcist when Father Karras declares the demon possessing little Regan identifying itself as “the devil” is as crazy as if she said she was Napoleon Bonaparte. One line. Just as effective. Leaving more screen time for the tense horror for which that film is known.

There’s a famous piece of advice given to writing students that goes something like this: Is what we’re seeing the most interesting part of the story? If not why aren’t we seeing that instead? This concept is at the heart of the problem with The Exorcism of Emily Rose. We have a story about an exorcism. A story with some of the best possession visuals seen to date, thanks largely to the terrific performance by Jennifer Carpenter as Emily. Great horror visuals. Creepy themes. All this crammed into about 20-30 minutes sprinkled throughout the film. We see a courtroom drama unfold. And one that is so wooden, gray, and dreary that it can’t hold a candle to other films in that genre either. Yes A Few Good Men is almost science fiction in its portrayal of courtroom activities, but it’s a hell of a good story and builds to a rousing conclusion. Emily Rose, though it had the acting chops with Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson, instead goes for a somber, quiet tone in the courtroom. It’s a horror movie without much horror and a courtroom movie with dull courtroom scenes.

And it COULD have been so much more. It had all the right elements to be a horror classic, and instead is a compromised drag so ponderous and flatly presented it could’ve been directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Because of this I see this movie as one of the biggest missed opportunities in modern horror history, and a dull, flat horror movie to watch. It’s not even fun to mock as so many other so-called bad horror movies are. Making it my choice for Worst Horror Movie.

Most Underrated Horror Movie: 1408

To continue this week’s discussion, I picked a movie that viewers either love or hate, 1408. There is no middle ground. People either give it one or seven to eight stars, and here’s why:

Many reviewers complain it’s not scary enough; the story drags; too many jump scares; not enough blood and guts; it’s not The Shining (of course not because it’s not); and the complaints go on…

1408 (2007) starring John Cusack and is based on a Stephen King short story. As many of you know, Hollywood doesn’t always do a great job with King’s stories. Many B- and C-list actors star in them, so the acting is pretty awful sometimes, and the special effects are often cheesy and cheap.

The movie 1408 is different. Although it only scores a metascore of 68/100 and 78% (audience 61%) on Rotten Tomatoes, don’t let that deter you. This is a great horror movie, and yes, it is a horror movie. It classifies as psychological horror and tries to do more than scare the audience.

Why is it underrated?

Those who did not like this movie didn’t get it, or it was simply not their thing. It’s a psychological thriller, which means the scares come from and warp the mind. Demonic creatures do not climb on ceilings and serial killers do not stalk teenagers. The movie, and the room specifically, uses our darkest moments and personal demons against us.

The best things:

I am a little bias because of three things: Samuel L. Jackson, Tony Shalhoub, and Stephen King. I love all three of these gentlemen for various reasons, so any project that includes all of them automatically wins brownie points. Jackson has a classic line and delivers it only like he can, “It’s an evil $%&*ing room.” Shalhoub plays a slimeball agent who gets Cusack into the room despite all odds. I can’t help but love Shalhoub in those roles. Then there’s King – one of my favorite writers.

Secondly, the story is refreshing and different. In 2007, we had a decent variety of horror movies premiere including 30 Days of Night and lots of sequels like Hostel Part II, 28 Weeks Later, and The Hills Have Eyes 2, and the epic Paranormal Activity. Aside from PA, most movies have been done before or rely on the predecessor’s success. This is where 1408 was different. It was a haunted hotel room that took Cusack’s nightmares and turned them into reality. Imagine being locked in a room with the things that haunt you the most. This is that movie. It forces you to imagine yourself in that situation and makes you think.

Reviewers also complain it’s another King movie about a writer. Guess what? King is a writer, and he expresses himself in his stories! King finds hotel rooms creepy, and puts his own fears and discomforts into the story. In fact, there are direct lines from the short story in the movie. And that is why he is the master he is. Any writer who truly pours their heart and fears into something writes more than just words on a page. They write a masterpiece.

What horror movies do you find underrated? Share them in the comments below!

Blast from the Past: Actors Make Movie

We movie buffs talk a lot about casting. Was the movie cast well? Do the actors portray the characters well? And so on…

In Blast from the Past, the cast MADE the movie. Sure, it’s silly, funny, cute, and entertaining, but the actors made this movie much more than a story. Had other actors been in these roles, the movie would have flopped as so many have. The premise is a little out there, and if I had read the script, I don’t know if I would have thought it was a good idea, but these four characters made it work:

Christopher Walken – Is there anything more needed? It’s Christopher Walker. He plays a quirky, genius dad whose purpose is to protect his family. Walken plays a concerned dad who loves and trusts his family unconditionally. His character is just weird enough to not alarm audiences, and people can relate to his political views and paranoia. In fact, I’m sure many people in the 60s worried about the Cold War and bomb threats, and I know because I’ve talked with people from this era, and the threats were a real, terrifying thing. He’s a stereotypical “dominate” alpha male from the 60s, yet he has a soft spot for his family.

blast from the past parents
Photo: letherebemovies.com

Sissy Spacek – Even though she’s a minor character in some ways, she symbolizes a lot. Spacek is one of my favorite characters because she represents the strong female. She becomes depressed and discontent after being locked away but still supports her family. She pushed Fraiser to go up to the surface to gather supplies and gauge how bad life really was (her husband had been up once already). She believes in fresh air, nature, and beauty. My favorite personality traits include questioning others’ decisions and providing for her family. She shows that a mom can cook, clean, teach her son to dance, and challenge authority and norms when needed – a much needed role model is today’s time.

Brenden Fraser – I believe Fraser has to play specific roles in order to be good. I’ve seen several of his movies, but he performs best when he’s portraying a dork. Blast from the Past and Bedazzled are two of my favorite Fraser movies, and in both he played very similar roles: oblivious, dorky, innocent, and complacent. In this movie, he enjoys the things we take for granted (the sky, ocean, rain, everyday miracles) and helps us remember that life is more than money and possessions – it’s about the little things. Not may actors can portray that genuine sense of innocence and traditionalism. He helps take the audience back to a different time when things were simple and meaningful.

blast from the past
Photo: movies.about.com

Alicia Silverstone – Shallow, squealy, and gorgeous are my best words to describe her. Silverstone does an amazing job portraying a jaded, cynical woman who just wants to find “the one”. She’s a little crazy and doesn’t have her life together, but like so many, she’s not lost. She’s comfortable with who she is and uses it to her advantage. Her character complements Frasier’s well in that she’s the polar opposite, but they mesh well together. She teaches him about modern-day life, and he makes her appreciate the little things. Sometimes we need the person who makes us see things a different way.

I love this romcom for many reasons, but sometimes you have to give all the credit to the cast. I’m an individual fan of all of the above, so having them in one movie is a real treat. If you haven’t seen it or haven’t seen it in awhile, definitely check it out and pay attention to the little things we may overlook!

They Are The Men in Black

What do you to stop your 13-year-old from playing video games? Put in Men in Black.

The sci-fi comedy premiered in 1997, along with one of the greatest duos of our time. An unlikely pair to some became a crowd favorite, so much so that a third sequel was made some 16 years later.

The tag team:

J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) make this movie. The know-it-all Smith and the seasoned Jones create an on-screen presence that’s hard to ignore. It’s one full of wit, sarcasm, and meanness, but of the best kind. Whether it’s the banter or the two men bullying Tony Shalhoub or a pug, they’re a perfect mix of rookie and veteran. The script and gestures are hysterical, and I just noticed Jay scratching his eyebrow with his middle finger for the first time this weekend. I always see something new.

Is there other life out there?

One of my favorite parts is the discovery phase. I love finding out there is a secret organization that manages the aliens on the planet. There aren’t a lot of aliens in this movie, but you know of bugs, the little worm guys in the break room, and the cute baby squid, to name a few. I remember seeing this movie as a kid and thinking, Wow… that would be a cool job. MIB made me question if we were alone in the universe.

Special effects don’t have to be over the top.

As we watched Friday, my son turned to me and asked, “Mom, how did they make that look so real?” The answer is a great movie crew and some CGI. The bad bug in this movie looks vicious, not cartoony. The spaceships don’t look fake or so unbelievable that you can tell a computer was used. The producers used real New York landmarks and celebrities, which adds something special. The effects aren’t so fast that you can’t keep up, and it’s a perfect mix of real and digital — certainly a lesson some directors should pay attention to now.

Take the time to rewatch.

I admit the sequels are not as good, as most sequels, but the series is super fun and entertaining. There are some light life lessons and touching moments, but overall Men in Black just takes you on an adventure without traveling too far from home.

Here are some of my favorite lines:

Beatrice: You here to make fun of me too?

Kay: No, ma’am. We at the FBI do not have a sense of humor we’re aware of. May we come in?

———–

Kay: All right… That’s confiscated. All of it. And I want you on the next transport off this rock or I’m gonna shoot you where it don’t grow back.

Jay: [shaken] Yeah and… and… and I’m gonna be back to talk about them Rolexes.

———–

Jay: [stepping on some cockroaches] Oh, I’m sorry. Was that your auntie? Then that must be your uncle over there!

———–

Jay: You know what they say. It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Kay: Try it.

———–

Kay: I don’t suppose you know what kind of alien life form leaves a green spectral trail and craves sugar water, do you?

Jay: Uh, wait, that was on Final Jeopardy! last night. Damn, Alex said…

And don’t forget the song!

Off the Top of My Head #11: Roger Ebert

Off The Top of My Head

We at RevPub love movies.  We go to a lot of movies, buy a lot of movies, and watch a lot of movies on TV.  Our love of the media made us especially sad to hear of the death of singular film critic Roger Ebert.

Roger Ebert

As I said in my Dreamlike Gaming post, it takes more than negativity to review movies.  Roger Ebert loved movies.  He had an undeserved reputation of being a “film snob” (this was more true of his partner Gene Siskel who died in 1999) but I’ve found this not to be true.  He really loved movies and loved to watch them.  He simply expected a lot of them, and when they failed to deliver never hesitated to tell us.

While many of the movies you’d expect him to dislike he happily obliged and those art house movies you’d expect him to gush over he often did, he could also surprise you by giving you a review of a film you’d expect him to hate and finding he loved it with a classic “this is the reason we go to the movies.”  He could appreciate the deep themes of a terse drama as well as the big dumb fun of a well-made action film.

It is a pleasure to read his good reviews, whether you agree or disagree with him as he always give specific and valid reasons for his opinions.  More fun, however, are his extremely negative reviews.  When he hated (or hated, hated, hated) a movie; because he also had valid reasons for hating them and often had his sharpened pen ready to draw blood…

Roger Ebert showed us why film critics are a specific breed.  He noticed aspects of films for his reviews after only his screening views I don’t notice until after repeated viewings and could make judgments using his epically deep knowledge of film history.

I’m incapable of describing the prowess of a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with the proper acumen so I’ll let the man speak for himself.  But the next time you go to a movie raise your 44oz soda, frozen coke, bucket of popcorn, or tray of nachos to the true loss of a real film institution.

Here’s to Roger Ebert.  We’ll miss you at the movies.

Roger Ebert’s Website

Some incredible negative reviews:

North

The Village

Deuce Bigalow European Gigalo

Transformers Revenge of the Fallen

Reviews of some of my favorite films:

Seven Samurai

Yojimbo

Shaun of the Dead

Negative review books:

I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie

Your Movie Sucks

A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length

Positive review books:

Roger Ebert’s Four Star Reviews

Roger Ebert’s Great Movies

Roger Ebert’s Great Movies II

Roger Ebert’s Great Movies III